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Monday, February 9, 2009

Fabulously Feminist News

UN Human Rights Council Urges Saudi Arabia to Give Women Rights

At a meeting late last week, members of the United Nations Human Rights Council urged Saudi Arabia to actively work to end pervasive human rights violations in the country, particularly those against women and children. According to Reuters, Britain, Switzerland, Canada, and Israel spoke against Saudi Arabia's current practices. Israel's delegation reportedly accused Saudi Arabia of "severe discrimination against women and minorities, corporal punishment, torture, forced labor, and the sexual exploitation of children."

Women's rights in Saudi Arabia are currently limited on a number of fronts including marriage rights, freedom to travel, property ownership, education, and work. According to Human Rights Watch, although some human rights laws have been introduced in Saudi Arabia, little implementation or enforcement of these laws has occurred.

Prior to the UN Human Rights Council review, Human Rights Watch's Middle East Director Sarah Leah Whitson, said that "The international community should ensure that its review of Saudi Arabia does not just produce more promises, leaving the Saudi people empty-handed….The Saudi reply to inquiries about rights violations or legal developments is typically total silence."


Defense of Marriage Act Questioned by Judge's Ruling

Last week a federal judge in the 9th Circuit Court ruled that the gay spouse of a federal employee is entitled to the same spousal health benefits that any heterosexual spouse would receive. Judge Stephen Reinhardt ruled that the denial of spousal benefits "cannot be justified simply by a distaste for or disapproval of same-sex marriage or…to discourage exercising a legal right afforded them by the state,' reported the Los Angeles Times. This ruling is in direct contradiction to the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act, which states that the federal government may not treat same-sex relationships as marriage.

According to MSNBC, in July 2008, Tony Sears had been denied health benefits after he married Brad Levenson, a deputy federal public defender for the 9th Circuit Court. Levenson appealed to the 9th Circuit's Standing Committee on Federal Public Defenders, chaired by Judge Reinhardt.

In a separate case last month, the 9th Circuit's chief justice, Alex Kozinski, also granted same-sex benefits to the same-sex spouse of 9th Circuit lawyer Karen Golinski. Kozinski considered the Federal Employee Health Benefits Act "vague" about the use of benefits for non-family members and thus ruled that Golinski's spouse should be covered.

Both cases were considered internal employee grievances and have no legal merit outside of the court’s executive office, but the rulings seriously question the constitutionality of the Defense of Marriage Act. Sears and Levenson told the Los Angeles Times that they see this as "a step along the road to equality."


Senator Boxer to Chair Foreign Relations Subcommittee on Global Women's Issues

Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA) will chair the Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on International Operations and Organizations, Human Rights, Democracy, and Global Women's Issues. This is the first time in history where women's issues will be a specific focus of a foreign relations subcommittee.

During Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's confirmation hearing, Senator Boxer presented photographs of women who had been burned in acid attacks and injured in gender-based violence worldwide. In reaction to the pictures, Senator Clinton promised to persuade leaders and governments internationally "that we cannot have a free, prosperous, peaceful progressive world if women are treated in such a discriminatory and violent way," according to the New York Times.

In a press release Senator Boxer said, "I am very grateful to our new Chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, Senator John Kerry, for allowing me to focus part of my efforts on the worldwide status of women….This new subcommittee assignment offers a tremendous opportunity to shine the light of day on a very overlooked issue. Too often, we turn our eyes away as women are persecuted, abused and treated as second-class citizens. But even the most conservative historians have noted that when women are given the freedom to live up to their full potential, society as a whole flourishes. I look forward to working with my colleagues in the Congress and with Secretary Clinton to stamp out violence against women in the world."

***From Our Friends at the Feminist Majority Foundation

From our Friends at Amnesty International

Armed groups and government forces continue to abuse women and children in North Kivu

Armed groups are still recruiting child soldiers to fight in the ongoing conflict in the province of North Kivu, eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).

Those child soldiers who attempt to escape have been killed or tortured, sometimes in front of other children, to discourage further escapes. Children who are taken captive by the DRC army on suspicion of being armed group fighters, have faced ill-treatment and torture in military detention.

There is also continuing physical and sexual abuse of women and children in the conflict, according to the new Amnesty International report, North Kivu: No end to the war against women and children.

The report is based on research and eye witness testimony collected by an Amnesty International fact-finding mission in North Kivu in February and March 2008. It says that members of armed groups and government security forces continue to rape and sexually abuse women and girls and, in a smaller number of cases, men and boys. Infant children and elderly women are among the victims, many of whom have suffered gang rape or have been raped more than once.

These abuses are happening despite government and armed group commitments to immediately end these atrocities in a 23 January 2008 "Act of Engagement".

According to the Amnesty International report, of the former child soldiers who had been reunited with their families in North Kivu through a national demobilization programme, as many as half may since have been re-recruited by armed groups.

Beaten to death
One former child soldier told Amnesty International how two youths were beaten to death in front of him and other child recruits "as a lesson to all of us not to try to escape":

"[The boys] were brought out of a pit in the ground and presented to us during a training session. [An armed group senior commander] then gave the order to beat them. Two soldiers and a captain pushed them down into the mud. When they tired of kicking them?they beat them with wooden sticks. The punishment lasted 90 minutes, until they died."

Rape has been committed in public and in front of family members, including children. Some women have been abducted and held as sexual slaves. In many cases, sexual abuse and rape appear to be ethnically motivated and/or aimed at terrorizing and demoralizing communities suspected of supporting enemy groups.

One 16-year-old rape survivor described how she had been abducted by two junior army officers and held captive in an army camp in North Kivu for several days before she was released. In the camp, she was raped nightly by one of the officers.

"The other officers and soldiers in the camp didn't seem to care or be willing to take responsibility", she told Amnesty International. She now suffers flashbacks and persistent headaches.

In its report, Amnesty International issued comprehensive recommendations to the armed groups, DRC government and the international community aimed at stopping human rights abuses. The recommendations include a call on armed groups to immediately release all children associated with their forces, and measures to end to the horror of sexual violence.

Background to the conflict
Despite a peace accord signed in January 2008, armed conflict has persisted in North Kivu. The fighting involves the regular Congolese army (FARDC) and the CNDP armed group under the command of a renegade general Laurent Nkuna, as well as a number of local mayi-mayi militia and the Rwandan FDLR armed group. Civilians have borne the brunt of the violence.

More than 100,000 people have been displaced by renewed fighting in North Kivu since 28 August 2008, adding to more than 1 million people displaced by earlier violence in the region.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Another Gem by Our Freind Mr. Billet....

This may be the make or break year for American Idol. With its eighth season underway, the producers are scrambling for anything they think might inject some fresh blood into the show and pull it out of its three-year slump in viewership. With the economy in crisis and music industry CEOs starting to feel the pinch, the prospect of losing one of their biggest cash-cows is horrifying indeed (at least for them), and they are clearly desperate for anything that can help them bridge the ever-widening gap between profitability and substance.

Look closely enough, and the contradictions have always been there. On one hand, American Idol puts on display the fact that there lies an immense sea of talent and creativity in the masses of ordinary working people. It's precisely why millions of folks tune into the show every week hoping to see a little bit of themselves becoming a star. On the other hand, it's obvious that the AI producers would have no idea what to do with most of the talent out there.

Last season saw the show constantly criticized for being out of touch. Critics grew tired of the same old formula. They took to task the monotonous, stale litany of celebrity guests, each of which only seemed to cement AI's disconnect from current popular tastes (Dolly Parton and ZZ Top? Really?). That America's best-known judges predicted the barely pubescent David Archuleta's deep-fried Disney voice would beat out David Cook--even as the latter's impressive stage presence would gain him the victory by over 12 million votes--further confirms how out of it the show has indeed become.

And so, recent years have seen the show try to "shake things up." First, they allowed contestants to play their own instruments. Then they allowed original material to be sung during auditions. Now they've upped the team of three judges--Simon, Paula and Randy--to four by adding record producer Kara DioGuardi. It's a bit strange to think that DioGuardi, one of the most established figures in the record industry and daughter of former Republican Congressman John DioGuardi, might somehow be more relatable to middle America.

DioGuardi is certainly in good company. Watching Cowell, Jackson and Abdul stretching to bring in people with "originality" is quickly becoming the most entertaining part of the show. That's because no matter how much AI attempts to widen the pool, it still ends up shoving all the contestants into the narrowest of funnels. One has to give show creator Nigel Lythgoe credit; he certainly realizes that every groundbreaking musical act has come from among the masses. What he's completely missed is that none of them--from Billie Holiday to the Beatles to Grand Master Flash--made their name by dumbing themselves down or fitting into a "type."

Despite the show's stabs at genuine populism, its very existence as part of an increasingly out-of-touch music industry means that American Idol will never truly be able to fill the gap between top-down and bottom up. In fact, one could even argue that AI represents not an attempt at opening the gates, but tightening the industry's grip around music itself.

Think about it: other than Carrie Underwood and Kelly Clarkson none of the crowned "Idols" have had a visible recording career lasting more than a few years. Though some have gone on to successful theatre and movie gigs, most have faded from the public view rather quickly. Given that most record companies keep close tabs over artists' first two or three albums, American Idol has definitely given the industry a renewed sense of control over some of their biggest stars.

Veteran rock critic and historian Dave Marsh framed the dynamic quite well in a recent interview:

"You go on American Idol and what's your run? Your run is 18 months to three years... you ain't getting to the third album, you're certainly not getting to the fourth! By the third album the curve is down and they [the record company] are gonna go work on somebody new--which is a new phenomenon... Why is that? The record companies figured out something that is very basic to their economics, which is that if you're going to build a career like Bob Dylan or Bruce Springsteen who makes more than fifty or a hundred albums... [you're going to start] really getting paid for them... So the record companies, I think, made probably a fairly conscious decision at the highest levels not to have long-term stars anymore because it's too expensive."

This is, in essence, what American Idol is. It is a machine built for churning out quick, ready-made stars who can be discarded at will after all the money has been squeezed out. Though the show may drape itself in some vaguely democratic American dream, it's really run by the same short-sighted bottom line as any mortgage company or shadow banker.

Perhaps this is why the ratings for Idol's season premiere have declined for the third year in a row. It's hard to revel in the success of "one of your own" when so many others are losing their homes, jobs and any basic sense of certainty in their lives. And therein lies the crux. Tapping into the massive amounts of talent and creativity among folks out there would require a lot more than a contest. It ultimately means doing away with the system that pits us against one another in the first place.

This article first appeared on SleptOn.com.